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The Gansu Provincial Museum in Lanzhou

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The Gansu Provincial Museum in Lanzhou

The Flying Horse of Gansu bronze statue dating from the Han Dynasty

Photo courtesy of Subok Yang. All rights reserved

Introduction

If you find yourself in Lanzhou then do not miss the Gansu Provincial Museum. The building was renovated and reopened and now is home to some excellent collections including the China-wide famous Flying Horse of Gansu (see section below) within the Silk Road collection.

Visitor Information

Entry Fee: Free of Charge

Hours of Operation: Tuesday through Sunday 9am-5pm | no entry after 4pm | closed Mondays

Address: 3 Xijin West Road | 甘肃省博物馆 | 西津西路3号

Museum Permanent Collections

The museums permanent collections are as follows. Check with the museum for special exhibitions.
  • Red Gansu (the historical journey of the Communist Party in Gansu)
  • Silk Road – a fabulous collection of Silk Road art that has been unearthed in tombs and taken from temples throughout Gansu
  • Fossils – collection of fossils from prehistoric plants and animals that have been found in the region including some giant skeletons of dinosaurs and mammoths
  • Neolithic Pottery – an amazing collection of ancient pottery and good depiction of life in ancient times
  • Buddhist Art – a survey of Buddhist art as it transformed from its entry into China to more modern times

Facilities:

  • Handicapped access
  • Elevators
  • Bathrooms on every floor
  • Water boiler for drinking water inside bathrooms (need to have your own thermos along)
  • Audio tours available for rental in the lobby
  • A small restaurant
  • A very nice (but expensive) coffee and tea shop on the second floor just outside the exit of the Silk Road museum with good espresso and selection of teas
  • A book shop on the second floor with many art books and postcards. The museum's collection is a thick tome with a good English introduction and excellent photos of the most spectacular pieces. Individual descriptions are in Chinese.
  • A small gift shop on the first floor has a number of replicas of the Flying Horse and other items.

Kids?

Yes, kids will enjoy this museum. While there aren't many kids' interactive exhibits, any dinosaur-lover will be wild about the Fossil Gallery and the Neolithic pottery exhibit does have a few interactive parts. The Buddhist Art Gallery has some life-size dioramas that are quite interesting.

Elevators make strollers are easy to maneuver in this museum.

More about The Flying Horse of Gansu specifically

The flying horse (马踏飞燕) has come to symbolize Gansu and in some ways the Silk Road. You'll see the horse welcoming you when you arrive at the Lanzhou airport or the train station. It decorates light poles on an avenue in Dunhuang. You can buy every size and material reproductions. Its popularity can't be overstated.

The bronze figure was unearthed in 1969 in Wuwei, Gansu Province in a tomb of a local general. The horse his emblematic of the Han Dynasty's obsession with horses. Indeed, it was indirectly the lust for cavalry horses that Han Dynasty Emperor Wudi opened the Silk Road in the first place. His envoy Zhang Qian brought back stories of "heavenly horses" that he encountered in a kingdom during his journey and the Han then became obsessed with acquiring them, giving them certain battle advantages over their arch-enemies, the Xiong-Nu.

Local guides point out that the flying horse depicts the Han ideal of a heavenly horse and this is quite different from the Western ideal of a divine steed: Pegasus. While Pegasus has wings and flies through the air, the Gansu bronze is depicted with one hoof perched on a swallow (seen as an illustration of the God of Wind) while the swallow races through the sky. The swallow turns its head around to see what has alighted on its back, meanwhile the horse – in parade stance – whips its head gloriously enjoying the ride.

The piece elicits a story and excites the imagination. Truthfully, it is considered a masterpiece in artistry as the statue itself balances perfectly on the small bronze sparrow.

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